3 Ways to Manage Elder Care Disputes


According to the U.S Census Bureau’s international population report An Aging World: 2015, the global population of individuals aged 65 and over rose by 55 million between 2012 and 2015. Correspondingly, as the elder population has increased so has the need for health services and caregiving. According to the report, adult children are the primary unpaid caregivers of their parents. Families acting as primary care givers face several challenges. Sometimes conflicts result from having to choose between home health services, a nursing home, or having an aging parent live with a relative. Other times deciding on how to pay for reoccurring medical expenses is a source of contention. No matter the issue, conversations regarding the care of an elder relative have the potential of becoming explosive. Before differing views lead to family drama consider one of these three options.

  • A Family Meeting

Family meetings are a good tool to use before an issue becomes a major problem. Similar to setting up a meeting for work, arranging a family meeting entails taking the initiative to contact family members and reserving a day, time, and place for the meeting. Preparing an agenda ahead of time will give attendees advanced time to think about what issues will be discussed and keep the focus of the meeting on track.

If someone lives out of state or far away, they can still be a participant via a video conferencing app like Facetime or by phone. The size of the meeting should remain fairly small. A suggested size is less than ten individuals. When determining who to include, consider non-family members like a close friend, neighbor, or house keeper who may have insight into what the caregiving needs are. Coordinating family meetings can be cumbersome, but well worth the work to open up the lines of communication between relatives.

Negative past experiences and estranged relationships are factors that can discourage individuals from desiring to meet so it is important to give reassurance that their participation is valuable. Lack of participation could lead to future problems especially if the outcome of the meeting is different than what an absent family member had in mind. If there is a strong likelihood of individuals becoming confrontational or tempers flaring consider family counseling to mend any damaged relationships. Conducting a family meeting while injured relationships exist may prove to be unfruitful.

  • Family Counseling

While the idea of family counseling can feel threatening, the benefits outweigh the discomforts. When there are estranged, broken, or damaged familial relationships, working together to come to a unanimous decision on the caregiving of an aging parent or relative can feel like an impossibility. However, in family therapy a therapist assists families dealing with high stress, communication breakdowns, depression, or anxiety. A family therapist is skilled and knowledgeable on how to improve communication, address painful past issues, engage family members in caregiving, and connect families with community resources. Through family counseling individuals receive the tools to rebuild trust, handle differences, and reconcile relationships.

  • Elder Care Mediation

A growing method for managing elder care disputes is mediation. In mediation, a trained qualified neutral third party named the mediator meets with individuals to facilitate resolutions to disagreements. The mediator schedules a day and time for family members to meet, listens to each relative’s concerns, clarifies disputed issues, and aids the group in generating a creative solution to the problem or problems. Mediation is a confidential informal process where the mediator provides a safe environment for people to talk and empowers participants to be collaborative decision-makers. Mediation differs from therapy in that while families may reconcile the purpose of the mediation is to come to an agreed plan of action. Mediators are versed in advanced conflict resolution methods and possess the skills to bring disputing parties to consensus. Should the parties reach an agreement, the terms of their agreement are written out in detail forming a binding contract enforceable like any other contract.

When seeking a mediator, one should consider experience level, cost, and familiarity with elder issues. The state of Texas has formed community dispute resolution centers supported by qualified mediators to provide affordable conflict resolution services at a minimal cost. Organizations such as Dispute Resolution Services of North Texas in Tarrant County help families resolve elder care disputes in addition to other types of conflicts. Furthermore, there are numerous private mediators with diverse backgrounds, professions, and specializations.

To find a mediator in your area visit:

Author: Annette Smith has ten years of experience in the field of mediation as a mediator and advocate for the greater use of alternative dispute resolution systems. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Communication from Texas A&M University and is an employee of Dispute Resolution Services of North Texas Inc. (DRS North Texas) in Fort Worth, Texas. DRS North Texas is a non-profit community dispute resolution organization of professional volunteer mediators who provide affordable mediation services and teach mediation and dispute and conflict resolution, an effective alternative to litigation. For more, visit drsnorthtexas.org.